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Review: Tennessee Metal Devastation Music Fest - Tennessee Metal Devastation Music Fest 2022
Tennessee Metal Devastation Music Fest
Tennessee Metal Devastation Music Fest 2022
Venue: Beech Lake
City: Lexington, Tennessee, United States

Show date: October 08, 2022

Review online: November 11, 2022
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Readers Rating
Tennessee Metal Devastation Music Fest 2022

Rated 4.33/5 (86.67%) (3 Votes)

Tennessee isn't exactly known for having a great metal scene, West Tennessee in particular having little representation. Sure, you get bands doing shows in Nashville and maybe Knoxville from time to time, and there's a handful of bands in the area I could name, but there's not really a community for this kind of thing, in part because there just aren't any events that really support it. This is something that Metal Devastation Radio and Promotions owner Zach Moonshine wanted to change by organizing this festival, held in the town where he first met his current partner and from there decided to start his own radio show. Initially, I wasn't sure if I was gonna go, as I was only familiar with one band in the lineup, but it was being held about an hour away from where I lived, so I decided to drive on down and show some support for the local scene.

Before I get into the festival proper, I'd like to address some of the controversy around it when it was announced. The town of Lexington is pretty small and very southern, so it's not too surprising that more than a few people were upset at the idea of a festival playing the devil's music in their friendly little town. That by itself isn't new or exciting, but the claim that caught everyone's attention was the fear that the festival would somehow open up a portal to Hell itself. As you'd expect, this got incorporated into the marketing for the festival and was definitely referenced several times over by organizers and bands alike, so thank you, detached weirdos, for making this more fun and notable for everyone. I wish I could say there were some protesters nearby to take the piss out of, but I didn't notice anyone the whole time I was there. Considering how everyone and their dog is armed to the teeth down here, maybe that's for the best.

On to the festival proper, which was slated to start at around 11 in the morning but got a bit delayed due to technical issues (good for me, as I was running late due to some wrong turns and may or may not have committed several traffic violations to finally get there). The venue in question was actually a local park right by Beech Lake, which made this festival a bit more scenic than average. Outside of the modestly sized stage, the main area was made up of a surrounding square of booths and vendors, many of which were the attending bands selling their merch and talking with fans, but also some food trucks and local businesses selling the kind of weird shit you'd expect the kind of weirdos to set up shop here to make (witchcraft items and fortune-telling, vegan cuisine, novelty curios that were mostly taxidermy, etc.). The crowd was made up of similar misfits, a lot of them skewing older and burly, but also some goths and stoners along with some people in corpse paint and even a woman with a Ouija blanket wandering around. I don't think we ever got over a hundred people max, but all things considered, it was a sizable turnout that only got bigger as the day went on (partly because there was a pride parade going on at the same time that ended halfway through the festival).

After about 30 minutes of setup, we finally got to the first group, Forever Broken. They played a sort of southern groove akin to the Black Label Society, and I guess they were fine if you're into that, but I always found the style lacking in good riffs, and these guys were no exception. I will say their solos had a bit of flair to them, but the real standout was the singer, who had a really strong voice with real grit and power to it, and he even pulled off some nice wails here and there and had good banter with the crowd even when he was getting kind of winded on stage. I wouldn't mind seeing him sing for a more melodically inclined band at some point, as he certainly has the pipes for it, but if you took him out of the equation, there'd be little to say about this band. 2.5/5

Next up was a stoner doom 3-piece called Grave Next Door. My general philosophy on stoner doom is that you either ape early Cathedral or Electric Wizard. Unfortunately, these guys opted for the latter most of the time, with rather weak shouts and iffy riffs that only occasionally perked up into something more Sabbathine. The last couple of songs were easily the best, and the odd bluesy tinge to their songwriting was enough to make them marginally more interesting than average, but then I heard a high note come out and got excited for a second before realizing the guitarist just accidentally hit his strings, and that says more about their live performance than I could. 2.5/5

I'll admit that I wasn't particularly enthralled with the festival so far, but I really could not have foreseen just how bad things were going to get. Enter the band Sleuthfoot, a sludge act from Arkansas that confidently took their place as the worst part of the festival. Musically, they were OK musicians, though their songwriting had that sludge trademark of having a lot of heaviness but no real tension or resolution with it. Of course, I'd have to wait for that, as they decided to open with a cover of Black Sabbath's "Lord of This World," which was perfectly well executed on an instrumental level, but the problem came with the singer, who is, to be blunt, terrible. He tries to do a sort of bark that goes up and down like he was trying to impersonate the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes, which by itself was bad enough, but then he just kept forgetting the lyrics to the song and got very visibly upset by it while storming around the stage before getting to the next verse. Afterwards, he went on about practicing for months and blowing it here while noting he hated performing live, and I couldn't help but just sink into my lawn chair in embarrassment. He sounded a little more confident with their own material, but he still kept trying to do everything possible without any technique or feel for vocal melodies, and his attempts to move around and perform on stage were forced and silly.

I know I just ragged super hard on the singer, and I don't feel great about it, but he helps me bring up a point I think is worth mentioning: audiences come for a show, not a song. The remaining bands had their share of mistakes and technical fuckups, but they were able to roll with the punches through banter and improvisation, which helped disguise their failings and gave more interaction with the audience, and audience interaction is pretty vital when you want them to take interest in your music outside of an album. You can get away with just playing the songs and playing them well, but then you're just giving the audience something they could get at home if you make no noticeable fuckups, so you're really better off learning how to be comfortable with your mistakes, which the singer for Sleuthfoot clearly wasn't (in fact, many of us figured he drank a bit beforehand to try and calm his nerves based on his slurring and stumbling during the set). Failing to put on a good show, or worst, putting on a bad one, is going to cost you some potential fans and customers, and in Sleuthfoot's case, I didn't see a single person go to their table to buy merch (worth noting they didn't even have a tent, so they were just unprepared in general). I feel bad going on about this and kicking the band while they're down, and it sucks that they were so disheartened that they left earlier than anyone else, but the fact is that you have to perform your music as well as play it if you want to stand out at a festival in a good way. If you don't, then at best, you are as good as your album and nothing more, and at worst, you are Sleuthfoot. 1/5

Back to the show itself, local self-proclaimed Thrash/Doom act Devil Be Me Judge came on next. I say self-proclaimed because instead of doing something similar to old Celtic Frost, they were just rather groovy thrash. I tend not to care much for the style, but I'll admit they put on a pretty decent show (not that they had a tough act to follow). When they had actual riffs instead of groove nonsense, they were usually pretty good, and they were good at working a crowd overall, though I have to say the vocals could use some work, as they have intensity but no real depth, so it comes off closer to yapping. I can't say they were great, but they at least put on a decent show, which is almost enough to make me forgive them for having a song called "I Married a Karen," which is almost as embarrassing by itself as the previous act was. 3/5

At this point, the crowds were starting to come in more, and I even had some nice chats with some of the other audience members about the previous bands and the current state of the scene in Tennessee. Most of the people there weren't particularly well acquainted with the underground, but were more than happy to support the bands that came if it meant getting a local scene again.

The next act on the lineup was called The Red Mountain, a sort of southern sludge/groove act that I initially rather liked, but after some reflection I realized it was because they had the best stage presence so far. Musically, there's not too much to say about them, as they did the typical groove thing of having simplistic and heavily rhythmic riffs along with the typical sludge thing of being heavy for its own sake, but I'll give the singer props for how animated he was on stage, often jumping around and even falling on his back before rising back up during the climax of one of their longer songs, all of which went a long way to making them the first band that day to have a crowd near the stage. They put on a good show overall, I just wish they made better music. 2/5

It's worth noting that except for the closing act, I was unfamiliar with every band at the festival, so a lot of this was a first impression for me. At the rate things were going, I was worried I'd end up being underwhelmed by all the bands there, but then Gravehuffer came on next and blew me the fuck away. At that point, I was unfamiliar with their bonkers take on Death/Grind, but by the time the crushing riffs of "Kill for Sport" started playing, I was an immediate convert. Every odd twist and turn they take on their albums works perfectly in a live setting, and the band had no issue hitting them note for note. They also had great rapport with the crowd, telling awful dad jokes between songs to the point the drummer told the singer to shut the fuck up. They had songs from every album in their set, and it was a fantastic introduction to their novel and exciting sound. They were also one of the first bands I got merch from, and the band members were gracious and humble the whole time. They even signed the copy of Your Fault I bought, which was also pretty rad. An excellent show from a great unsung band that made me a convert. 5/5

For the first time since the festival started, I was really looking forward to the next band, which ended up being Tommy Stewart's Dyerwulf. At the time, I was curious as to how a 2-piece with no guitars was going to work in a live setting, but after talking with Tommy about it, it turns out he has multiple amps at different configurations for his bass to get the layered, heavy sound he wants, and it ended up sounding massive on stage. I will say that "Shadow of the Well" doesn't work as well in a live setting, but "Two Trog Yog" absolutely rules on stage, almost enough to get me out of my chair to march along to it (I didn't, but I really should have)

Unfortunately, due to his need for specific amp configurations, his set was cut down to about 15 minutes as the sound guys struggled to get everything set up, so he only had time for the two songs above along with a cover of a song from speed metal outfit Hallows Eve, which he founded back in the '80s. One of the guys from Gravehuffer played guitar for it, and it turns out Tommy's older, gruffer voice works for the untamed and enthusiastic material perfectly, so it was a great way to close out an unfortunately short show.

I talked with him at his tent later on that night and learned he ran the label Black Doomba Records, which led us to talking about that and his time in the scene with some other people at the table, one of which runs a podcast called Metal Thrashing Mike and has his own techy thrash project called Infernal Tyrant (covered that a while back, pretty good) and some guy who recognized me as a writer for this site and gave me a fist bump (if you're reading this, your Slowly We Rot shirt was sick) Overall, Tommy is a nice and knowledgeable guy with more business sense than the average indie label, and it's nice to know he's out there nurturing bluesy doom acts while making some of his own. 4/5

After this one-two punch of strong acts, I was ready for a third one, but sadly I got Eyes of the Living instead. They're a very modern Thrash act and have all the trademarks: lame chugging riffs, pseudo-hardcore yelling, and songs that are certainly heavy, but not exciting in the slightest. That said, they at least had some pretty good presence on stage, and there's no one thing about their music I really dislike, so I won't say they were a terrible band to sit through. 3/5

It was starting to get dark around this time, and the lake air was making things pretty cold on what was previously a warm day, so people were running back to get blankets and jackets before the next act, Spillage, began, who were notably one of the few that brought flags so we knew who the hell they were before being announced. The evening lighting also meant they were the first band to have noticeable stage lights and a fog machine that actually added some mood (all of these were present from other bands, but it was too sunny to have much impact on the shows beforehand. Oh well). The music itself was my introduction to the band's '80s inspired Heavy/Doom, and I'd say they did a good job of it. I became familiar with their album Electric Exorcist after getting it from their booth (also signed), so I can say the songs from that album were well performed, if not as good as on the album. That's not to say they were bad, as everyone was tight and professional, and their singer absolutely kills in a live setting, even when he broke into the chorus of "Ballroom Blitz" out of nowhere for some reason, but some music just sounds better on disc, and I guess that's just true for Spillage. I'd still say they're worth seeing live, if only to witness the world's largest garden gnome playing drums with them. 3.75/5

It was finally nightfall by the time Death/Thrash act Deocculted took the stage, which gave them the cover of darkness needed to have blood red stage lights on them the entire time. The singer would note between sets how much the band meant to him, how to keep your mental health positive, and sort of hinted he may have had suicidal intentions before forming the band, so I certainly respect his honesty and vulnerability to the audience. The other big thing that happened during their show was the appearance of cultists in robes on stage giving them the horns and praising them, which I believe were the show organizers, but I don't know. It was a cute wink at the controversy around the festival and made the show more memorable.

You probably noticed I haven't talked about their music yet, and that's because I don't have much to say about it. If you've heard a Death/Thrash band before (and judging from the crowd going nuts near the stage, many there hadn't), then you've heard these guys. The playing is good enough, the vocals are good enough (though the singer was clearly winded between sets), the presentation was good enough, it was just all good enough. I'll gladly take that over some of the earlier bands, but I hope these guys find a real identity for themselves in the future. 3.5/5

At this point, I figured it wouldn't be until Summoner's Circle closed the show until I was impressed by a show again, but they ended up being followed by the best band that day with Casket Robbery. They work in old-school brutal death metal with imagery all around horror films and serial killers and shit, so I wasn't expecting them to be the highlight of the show, but then the riffs came out and flattened my fucking skull while the razor-sharp growls of their singer shattered the remnants to pieces. The presence they had on stage from sheer musicianship alone was greater than anyone else that day, and everyone was a great performer as they interacted with the audience (it's so hard to believe their singer has the sweetest West Virginia accent imaginable when you hear her going at it, and it's all the more jarring she can go from one to the other at the drop of a hat). I looked into their albums after the show (they ran out by the time I went to buy one, but I did get a cool shirt), and I'll say their music is very strong, but it takes on a life of its own in a live setting. If you get the chance, catch these guys at a show and go buy their music, as they could well be one of the next big bands in the current glut of old school death metal. 5/5

Finally, after a long day of trying to avoid sunburn, listening to music, and eating enough burgers to bankrupt a slaughterhouse, we finally got to headliners Summoner's Circle. I actually covered their third album, Chaos Vector, a while back, and talked a bit with the band about it and the story that came with it along with other events at the show (they seemed to like Sleuthfoot's music and were really disheartened to hear they left so early). The even signed the last physical copy of their debut album for me, which was pretty cool (might cover it at some point, short version is that it's a bit too ambitious for its own good, but still very good). Musically, I still think their songs get too busy and drag on for longer than needed, but it's the theatrics of the show that really make them stand out. They opened up with a mock human sacrifice (she was fine, so I guess they're necromancers too) before blasting into some of their older material, and between sets they had really strong banter with the audience while occasionally improvising a lick here and there, and they were easily the funniest people on stage that day (their suggestion that the portal to hell was found in a local Mexican restaurant called Los Portales actually got me to laugh out loud). For all their pageantry, they never looked like they took themselves too seriously, which went a long way to endearing themselves to us all.

Speaking of, they had plenty of pageantry going on during the show. Outside of the props around the stage and every member wearing black cult robes and face paint, the singer referred to every song as an incantation, did the old classic of tearing up a bible on stage when debuting their new anti-Christian single (forgot the name, sorry about that), had a mock child sacrifice of a baby doll named Bleedus (one they were using to ask for donations by claiming it was his college fund. I hope the little guy makes it) while smearing fake blood on his hands and passing it to the audience, and then the grand finale where the singer disappeared backstage (longer than anticipated, based on the rest of the band improvising to hold the tension of the intro to the song) and was replaced by none other than the King in Yellow himself, Hastur. As expected, the crowd went fucking nuts as the singer stood behind the mic as if her were addressing his own cult, which he basically was at that point, and a more perfect ending for the show I'd be hard-pressed to imagine. Overall, these guys definitely had the best show from a theatrical perspective, and they are clearly in their element with a live setting, which made them the best band to close the festival on. 4.5/5

Like all good things, the festival came to an end afterwards, with all the bands gathering on stage to send everybody off. I made my trek home after all of this, and while I don't have any other festivals to compare this too, I'd like to think this was a good one. I'll admit the first half was a little suspect, with some of the music being downright terrible, but the bands who were good were very good, and the entire mood of comradery in metal music is not something I experience much in person. The announcer claimed that there were plans for a festival next year, and it seems they're already swamped with bands applying to play. Maybe more bands there will be to my taste, maybe not, but I'm glad to have something like this in my neck of the woods, and will definitely be attending next year.

Having said all that, we never actually opened a portal into Hell, so I'm forced to call the festival an abject failure. 0/5

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